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Views from the Center

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Taxing Kenya’s M-Pesa Picks the Pockets of the Poor

Kenya has instituted a new tax that affects users of M-Pesa -- a widely popular phone-based money transfer service used by more than half of Kenya’s adult population. The new 10 percent excise duty on fees charged for money transfer services applies to mobile phone providers, banks, and other money transfer agencies. Operated by Safaricom, the largest mobile network operator in Kenya, M-Pesa accounts for the largest share of users of money transfer services. Users of M-Pesa products will therefore bear most of the impact of the tax.

Why Have Mobile Phones Succeeded Where Other Technologies Have Not?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a panel for a conference on Information and Communications Technology and Development.  The debate on my panel was a lively one, and came down to one issue:  Can information technology (by itself) lead to development?  Obviously there has been a lot of buzz about this topic -- Jeffrey Sachs has called the mobile phone the “single most transformative technology” for de

C U L8ter? Using Mobile Phones as a Literacy Tool in Niger

This is a joint posting with Kristy Bohling.

I recently received a text message from my friend Karim in Niger, asking “Keski ce passe?” (What’s happening?). Those of you who know French might notice his text is an abbreviation of the much longer expression for “Qu’est-ce qui se passe”, which is formal and proper but a bit long when you only have 140 characters. Such abbreviations in French, English and other languages have caused teachers and parents alike to blame texting for corrupting our language and “degrading [the] spelling of [our] youth.” Existing studies in the UK and elsewhere have debunked these claims, and, the National Adult Literacy Database called on people to celebrate International Literacy Day by “reading or writing, tweeting or texting.” In fact, mobile phones and texting might be a new tool in the arsenal against illiteracy: our new research in Niger suggests that mobile phones could promote literacy and numeracy skills in sub-Saharan Africa.